Effexor (Venlafaxine) Abuse and Addiction
Last Updated: October 25, 2022
Effexor (generic for venlafaxine) is a commonly prescribed antidepressant primarily used to treat major depressive, anxiety and panic disorders. Antidepressant use increased by 65% in the U.S. between 1999–2014, with nearly twice as many women taking an antidepressant as men (16.5% and 8.6%, respectively). Almost 18 million venlafaxine prescriptions were written in 2019, making it the 40th most prescribed drug in the U.S. Although the drug is not a controlled substance and, therefore, does not carry a risk of abuse, addiction or dependence, it is still important to take Effexor correctly.
What Is Effexor?
Effexor is a brand name for the popular prescription antidepressant medication venlafaxine. Effexor works by increasing the availability of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain, which has been shown to improve mental health in people with major depressive, anxiety and panic disorders.
Effexor is classified as a “serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor” (SNRI). SNRIs prevent neurons (a major type of brain cell) from “reuptaking” or absorbing the serotonin and norepinephrine they release from neurotransmitters. This increases the time these chemicals are available for other cells to use.
Effexor XR is the extended-release version of Effexor. Effexor XR is taken once daily (usually in the morning) rather than two to three times daily. In addition, while Effexor is available as tablets in strengths of 25 mg, 37.5 mg, 50 mg, 75 mg and 100 mg, Effexor XR comes as capsules in strengths of 37.5 mg, 75 mg and 150 mg.
What Is Effexor Used For?
Effexor is prescribed to treat many different conditions, including:
- Social phobia
- Panic disorder
- Menopausal symptoms in women
- Nerve pain
How Does Effexor Make You Feel?
Effexor is well-tolerated and can help relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety, menopause and pain when taken as prescribed. However, at excessive doses, Effexor can have stimulant-like effects and, when abused, has been linked to fast heartbeat, drowsiness and agitation.
Dosage and Administration
Effexor is generally started at a daily dose of 37.5 mg–75 mg, which may be administered in two or three divided doses. If needed, the amount is increased by 75 mg increments at intervals of at least four days. Typically, 225 mg/day is the maximum dose, but in inpatient settings, the amount may increase to 350 mg or 375 mg/day, divided into three doses. Effexor should be taken with food. Effexor is prescribed only for oral administration.
What Does Effexor Look Like?
Effexor pills are five-sided and peach in color when sold under its brand name. All Effexor pills are stamped with “W” on one side (indicating the manufacturer, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals). Each dose is also stamped with a number on the other side: 25 mg pills have “701,” 37.5 mg have “781,” 50 mg have “703,” 75 mg have “704” and 100 mg have “705.”
Effexor XR extended-release capsules come in the following variations: gray cap/peach body (37.5 mg), peach cap and body (75 mg) or dark orange cap and body (150 mg). Each variety has “W” and “Effexor XR” printed on the cap and the dose printed on the body.
However, generic versions of Effexor sold under the name venlafaxine are also available, and, although they are all tablets, how they look differs widely depending on the manufacturer.
Other Names & Street Names For Effexor
Venlafaxine is the generic name for Effexor. There are no street names for Effexor.
Effexor Half-life: How Long Does Effexor Stay In Your System?
The time a substance is present in your system depends on its half-life. One half-life refers to the time it takes for half of the substance to be eliminated. Generally, it takes five half-lives for your body to eliminate a drug.
The half-life of Effexor is approximately five hours, and its major active metabolite (O-desmethylvenlafaxine (ODV)) has a half-life of approximately 11 hours. Therefore, Effexor will be out of your system in about 25 hours, and the active metabolite ODV will take about 55 hours to be eliminated from your system.
Effexor is not a common component in drug tests; however, a doctor, employer or court can order specific drug tests to look for Effexor.
Side Effects of Effexor
Among the most common Effexor side effects are:
- Nausea/vomiting or diarrhea
- Weight or appetite changes
- Dry mouth
- Increased sweating
- Decreased sex drive
Some Effexor side effects require immediate medical attention. Symptoms that indicate a potential medical emergency include:
- Blurred or tunnel vision
- Easy bruising or bleeding
- Bloody stools or coughing up blood
- Trouble breathing
- Slurred speech, confusion and severe weakness
- Muscle rigidity with fever, rapid or uneven heart rate, tremors and lightheadedness
Serotonin syndrome is a dangerous complication that occurs as a consequence of extremely high serotonin levels. Taking Effexor with any other drug that elevates serotonin (generally other antidepressants) can be hazardous, even lethal. Symptoms of serotonin syndrome include:
- Muscle twitching
- Erratic heartbeat
- Loss of coordination
Is Effexor Addictive?
Effexor is not addictive in the classical sense of addiction; that is, no one would be willing to rob a store for Effexor or abandon family responsibilities to use Effexor. That said, some say abusing the drug can cause an amphetamine-like high, but this is poorly studied.
Among antidepressants, Effexor is notorious for causing profoundly uncomfortable symptoms associated with “antidepressant discontinuation syndrome” when it is reduced or eliminated. Even missing a single dose can cause uncomfortable symptoms, including vertigo, nausea, flu-like symptoms and sensory disturbances.
How Is Effexor Abused?
Effexor is occasionally abused to cause an amphetamine-like high. The most commonly used abusive method to administer Effexor is crushing pills and taking high doses by mouth (up to 4,050 mg have been reported).
Although published literature does not have examples of Effexor being abused in any way other than administering high doses orally, online drug forums have cases of people snorting or intravenously injecting Effexor. However, these cases are uncommon.
Effexor Abuse Statistics
Very little data are available on Effexor misuse in the U.S., and only 752 cases of Effexor abuse were reported to poison control centers in the U.S. between 2000–2016. Further, only three published cases are readily available:
- A male in his mid-40s misused Effexor to manage severe depression, taking up to 1,500 mg daily.
- A 38-year-old male misused Effexor by crushing pills and taking up to 4,050 mg at a time to achieve an “amphetamine-like high.”
- A 53-year-old male used up to 3,750 mg at a time to feel “more empathic and sociable.”
A large analysis of European data (47,516 people prescribed Effexor) found that just over 200 people (0.45%) met the criteria for misuse. However, the biggest threat from Effexor use is withdrawal symptoms associated with antidepressant discontinuation syndrome (ADS). ADS frequently occurs when people try to reduce or stop their dose.
Getting Help for Effexor Addiction in Ohio
If you or a loved one is concerned about Effexor misuse or withdrawal, The Recovery Village Columbus is here to help.
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